Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee Cake

Three layers of vanilla cake with caramelized sugar, filled with vanilla pastry cream, frosted with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream and topped with caramel shards!

creme brulee cake

What is crème brûleé

Creme brulee stands for burnt sugar. Traditionally it’s a vanilla custard base served in a ramekin type dish and topped with a crunchy caramelized sugar. It’s a very simple but elegant dessert and I took all those beautiful flavors and textures and turned it into a layer cake for ya!

How to make a crème brûleé cake

This creme brulee cake is made of a simple vanilla cake base. It’s frosted with vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream and filled with a vanilla bean pastry cream. There’s also bits of caramelized sugar between every layer and on top of the cake. 

You could even go the extra mile and put the crunchy sugar in a food processor and then add some to the buttercream. That would definitely be the way to go if I wasn’t lazy. Lol, joking, I didn’t think about it until after. 

creme brulee cake

The best vanilla cake recipe

As always, I used my favorite vanilla cake recipe. It’s simple to make and is the perfect base for almost any cake flavor. It’s soft and fluffy but not too crumbly, it’s firm and sturdy but not dry or tough. 

You can check out my 6 inch vanilla cake recipe post for detailed shots and a video on how to make it. 

How to make vanilla pastry cream

Pastry cream is also fairly simple to make, the only thing people usually struggle with is knowing when to stop cooking it. You need to cook it long enough for it to thicken without overcooking it. The pastry cream should be able to coat the back of a spoon when it’s hot and it will continue to thicken as it cools.

If you overheat the pastry cream, it will separate. To fix this, remove the saucepan from the heat, place the bottom of the pan in a tub of ice water and whisk continuously until it comes back together.  

How to make Swiss meringue buttercream

Swiss meringue buttercream can be a little intimidating to make but it’s one of the easier types of European buttercreams. SMBC uses only egg whites and they get heated over a double boiler to dissolve the sugar and then whipped until it’s fully cooled. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that the meringue (egg white and sugar mixture) needs to be at a similar temperature to the butter. You want to bring them both to room temperature so that they emulsify properly. 

If the butter is too warm, the buttercream will look like soup. To fix this, refrigerate the buttercream for about 30 minutes and beat it again. 

If the butter is too cold or the meringue is too warm, the buttercream will split and look curdled. To fix this, you need to heat the whole mixture so that the butterfat melts and the mixture will look like soup. Then refrigerate it and beat it again. 

If the warming and cooling process doesn’t fix a curdled buttercream, odds are you need more butter. If the egg whites were a little larger or if the type of butter used had less butterfat, then sometimes that can happen. Just add another 2-4 Tbsp of butter while beating. 

How to make caramel shards

These caramel shards may look impressive, but they’re soooo easy to make! Literally just simmering sugar and water until it caramelizes and then pour it onto a pan. Let it cool and stab it with a sharp knife to shatter it into pieces. 

Frequently asked questions

Can I make this cake in a different size

Yes, you can also make this into an 8 or a 9 inch cake. You can still get three layers out of an 8 inch pan but they will be shorter so check for doneness 5-10 minutes sooner. You can also do two layers from an 8 or 9 inch pan but they will be thicker so bake them for 5-10 minutes longer. 

Can I make parts of the cake ahead of time

You can bake the cake layers ahead of time. If it’s the night before frosting, wrap them in plastic wrap and leave them at room temperature. 

If it’s longer than one night before frosting, wrap them in plastic wrap, place them in a freezer bag and freeze them. Then defrost them at room temperature before frosting. They don’t have to be fully defrosted before frosting, just before serving. 

Can I make this without a kitchen torch

Unfortunately I don’t think this cake can be made without a culinary torch. I tried to do it with a lighter but it just wasn’t strong enough. This is the torch that I have, it’s affordable and easy to use but it doesn’t include the butane. This torch also also has good reviews and it comes with the butane but it is a little pricier.

creme brulee cake

How to serve and store crème brûleé cake

This creme brulee cake has to be stored in the refrigerator because of the pastry cream but it is best served at room temperature or slightly chilled. 

To freeze it, slice it and place them in an airtight container. Then place the airtight container in a freezer bag, squeezing out all the excess air. Freeze for up to three months.

If you have any questions just comment down below and make sure to tag me @baranbakery on instagram if you make it! I’m a little slow to respond since I just had my second baby and my book, Frosted, is launching this week! 

Love, B

Yield: 10 slices

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee Cake

creme brulee cake

Three layers of vanilla cake with caramelized sugar, filled with vanilla pastry cream, frosted with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream and topped with caramel shards!

Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 4 hours 5 minutes

Ingredients

Vanilla Cake

  • 2 1/4 (270g) cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp (10g) baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup (56g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (118mL) oil
  • 1 1/2 cup (300g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (170g) sour cream, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (177mL) milk, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar, for torching

Vanilla Pastry Cream

  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup (66g) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup (118mL) milk
  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Butttercream

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Caramel Shards

  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (59mL) water

Instructions

Vanilla Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease and line three 6 inch cake pans.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt until they're evenly distributed.
  3. Place the room temperature butter, the oil and the granulated sugar in a large bowl and use an electric mixer with the whisk attachment to beat them for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed until each egg is fully incorporated. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract and beat just until combined.
  5. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, turn the mixer on low speed and then pour in the milk, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients.
  6. Distribute the batter evenly among the three cake pans, about 14oz in each pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. When the cake is fully baked it will release itself from the edge of the pan and it will spring back if you press on the center of it.
  7. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, sugar, salt and cornstarch. Whisk them together until the mixture is smooth; set aside. In a medium saucepan, over low-medium heat, bring the milk and butter to a simmer and then slowly stream the milk mixture over the egg mixture, while whisking continuously.
  2. Return the whole mixture to the pot and over low-medium heat, whisk continuously for a few minutes until you see the first bubble pop. After the first bubble, whisk for one more minute and then remove the cream from the heat and pour through a sieve into a bowl.
  3. Stir in the vanilla and cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap and allow to cool to room temperature.

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  1. Place the egg whites and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Bring a small pot with 1/2 cup of water to a boil and lower the heat to simmer.
  2. Place the bowl of egg whites and sugar on top of the simmering water for 5-10 minutes, whisking intermittently, until the granulated sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove the bowl of egg whites from the heat and use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to beat the egg whites with the sugar. Beat for 7-10 minutes on high speed and then lower the speed to low-medium.
  4. Slowly add 2 Tbsp of butter in at a time. Wait for the butter to incorporate before adding the next chunk. Once all the butter is added, turn the mixer up to high speed for 10-15 seconds.
  5. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the edge of the bowl, add the vanilla bean paste (or extract) and salt and beat until they're fully combined.

Caramel Shards

  1. Line a cook sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.
  2. Place the sugar and water in a medium size, heavy bottom sauce pan. Swirl the pan until the sugar is immersed in water. Place the saucepan over low-medium heat and allow the sugar to fully dissolve in the water.
  3. Bring the sugar to a gentle simmer and place the lid on the pan until the color begins to darken to a light amber color. This may take 5-10 minutes, make sure to remove the lid every couple minutes to check the color. You can gently swirl the pan if the color change is uneven but do not stir it.
  4. Once the color is a nice amber color, pour it over the prepared pan and allow it to cool to room temperature. Once it's fully cooled, use a knife to stab the caramel so it shatters into pieces (do this right when it's cooled, don't leave it out for a long time).
  5. Store left over shards in an airtight container/bag in the freezer.

Assemble

  1. Place the first layer of cake onto a flat surface. Top with a couple Tbsp of granulated sugar and then use a culinary torch to caramelize the sugar on top of the cake.
  2. Use a piping bag fit with a round tip to pipe a border of Swiss meringue buttercream around the edge of the cake layer.
  3. Use half of the pastry cream to fill inside the buttercream border. Generously top the pastry cream with caramel shards (put more than I did in the photos).
  4. Repeat this with the second layer of cake and then top with the third layer. Refrigerate the cake for 20-30 minutes to set before frosting the outside.
  5. Use the rest of the buttercream with an offset spatula and cake scraper to frost the outside of the cake. Top with additional caramel shards.
  6. Creme Brulee Cake is best served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Notes

Store fully covered in the refrigerator.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 926Total Fat: 51gSaturated Fat: 24gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 247mgSodium: 417mgCarbohydrates: 107gFiber: 1gSugar: 84gProtein: 11g

Nutrition information may not be fully accurate.

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9 Comments

    • Hi! Yeah you can make it all the day before but the caramel shards on top will get a little sticky in the fridge so maybe leave them out at room temperature and then put them on the next day

    • Hi! Yeah you can make it all the day before but the caramel shards on top will get a little sticky in the fridge so maybe leave them out at room temperature and then put on the next day. Make sure to take it out of the fridge a couple hours before serving too.

  1. I made this for NYE, and it was incredible!! I made a basic buttercream because my swiss meringue did not come out thick enough, but the cake was such a hit!! Would absolutely make again.

  2. I wanted to love this recipe. There’s parts missing as if we have to read her mind (vanilla goes when in the pastry cream? How do you prepare the pan for the caramel shards?) and structurally, there’s no way that a cake this dense with three layers can hold the fillings using Swiss Meringue. It was a hot mess! I should have relied on my baking instincts and not get swept up by creme brûlée

    • Hi Kathy, I’m sorry the recipe the didn’t work out for you. I think sometimes people forget that it’s just another human on the other side of the screen reading your comments…

      Thank you for letting me know about the minor steps that I missed, I’ll go ahead and update that 🙂

      As for the structure, I’m not sure what you mean. I used Swiss meringue buttercream because it is strong enough to hold almost any cake… if you disagree, I’d really love to know what frosting you recommend!

    • I simply can’t understand why you would have any trouble with this recipe.
      I made it and it’s just wonderful.
      Swiss meringue is used for wedding cakes so structurally it’s definitely sound and so much more appealing than American buttercream. Perhaps your butter cream was too warm or runny or you forgot to dam it. The minor omitted ingredients would be a reflex for anyone who has baked even two cakes in their life.
      Great recipe everyone loved it and it looked stunning with the gold leaf flakes I added to the top.
      Thank you for sharing with us!

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